At 5:26 a.m. Monday, the Hastings office of the National Weather Service issued a bulletin announcing its coverage area in central Nebraska and northern Kansas could expect the coldest air temperatures “since at least 1989” on Monday and Tuesday mornings.
For me, the “since 1989” part of that statement sent me back in time to my freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, when arctic air in the days leading up to Christmas made finishing the fall semester and traveling home for the holiday break an unforgettable adventure.
Christmas Day 32 years ago was on a Monday, and the last day of finals week was Friday, Dec. 22 — by coincidence, my mother’s 60th birthday. Unluckily, I had exams scheduled all the way to week’s end.
That Friday morning, the low temperature in Lincoln was 22 degrees below zero. Here in Hastings, the low was minus-26, with wind chills much colder. (We matched that -26 mark for air temperature Monday at the Hastings Municipal Airport. Southeast of Fairfield, the wind chill factor at 6:57 a.m. Friday was minus-54, NWS reported.)
All of that long-ago finals week, I had been trying to put my best study skills to use. After all, I had never been through finals week before, and I was anxious to put my best foot forward.
Meanwhile, I was increasingly anxious about how I was going to cover the 135 miles home to the farm south of Norman at the end of the week. Would my car even start when the time came? I was new not only to college studies, but also to day-to-day responsibilities such as keeping my clothes clean, eating decently, and keeping my car road-worthy.
All that week, I had been spending hours a day taking tests and then getting ready for the next ones at Love Library, the Nebraska Student Union, and anyplace else I could spread out my books and find some peace and quiet. (When you live in a fraternity house, finals week starts out somber and studious and then gets progressively less-so as more and more of your brothers finish their work.)
For at least three or four days before that Friday, I was also walking the block-and-a-half north to the student lot where my car was parked every four to six hours day and night, starting the engine and then just sitting inside for 10-15 minutes or more, revving the engine and letting it run.
When I finished my last exam early that Friday afternoon (it was Physical Geography 150, as I recall), I packed quickly and was ready to hit the road so I could be back in God’s Country before nightfall. As it turns out, I was one of the fortunate few whose vehicles actually started that day without a boost. I learned later that some friends never did get their cars started and had to find another way home.
Several students from Minden had talked ahead of time, and we drove west on Interstate 80 in caravan so if anyone had car trouble, he or she could get help without having to walk. (Those were the days before cellphones.) We would all pull off every few exits and wait for the rest to arrive so we knew we weren’t leaving anyone behind.
The weather was beguilingly bright and clear that day, but the air temperatures could have been deadly for a stranded motorist. The high that day in Hastings was 5 degrees below zero.
Arriving home from college for Christmas break was always sweet, and it was especially meaningful for me that December. Just like this year, rough weather makes you especially aware of the simple blessings in life we often take for granted: a car that runs faithfully; a good stocking cap; home-cooked meals; and your own warm bed, under the same roof as the people you love.
Over this last, coronavirus-infested year, we’ve all learned to count our blessings more often and more carefully than before. Today would be a good time to do so again.
Thanks to all the road and street crews, utility workers, mail and newspaper carriers, grocery store workers and others who are helping us carry on through this cold, snowy February siege.
Let’s pray for all those suffering in any way because of the weather or the current public health situation.
Finally, let’s remember to keep an eye out for one another, help each other when and where we can, and make sure we all arrive together in the warmer, safer days that are sure to come soon.
Be safe, and be well.
Andy Raun is editor and news director at the Hastings Tribune. Contact him at 402-303-1419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.